On dealing with recruiters

Some personal thoughts based on my experiences with recruiters over the years

Introduction

As a hiring manager, I am approached by recruiters all of the time. I get offers every other day from recruitment and out-source agencies, looking to sell their services to my employer, because they know from my job title that I am a hiring manager.

As a head of an engineering department, one of my main focuses is on hiring and retention. I hire people all of the time, and have been doing so for many years. I compete with many other, larger companies in my city to hire the most talented engineers I can find, and then work hard to ensure they stick around for the duration.

Recently I had dinner with about ten other engineering managers, which was organized by a recruitment friend, and we all faced the same challenges with regards to hiring and retention: there are simply not enough candidates for the roles available, and we are all competing with one another for the same limited talent pool.

Over the years, I have dealt with some excellent recruiters, and sadly some terrible ones. If you are a recruiter, I hope you find the following advice useful from the hiring manager perspective, and at least it will help explain why I don’t always take your call.

How the bad recruiters operate

The biggest complaint I have about bad recruiters is their tendency to hassle the hiring manager. From the initially connection request on LinkedIn, to the repeated calls to your cell phone once the relationship has progressed that far, they push in classic sales style to “close the deal”. Normally I love that sales aggression, but they need to understand the following:

  1. They are selling candidates to companies (and companies to candidates). Both parties need time to think, it’s an important process for both sides. Be patient.
  2. While recruitment is important to me, unlike a recruiter it is not my only responsibility: I might “go dark” for a while because I am dealing with a product delivery issue, a project planning issue, internal team challenges, workshops, conferences or many many other concerns that are distracting me from recruitment right now. Be patient.

Recruitment is based on trust, and if I lose trust in a recruiter I will also disengage with them. In the past, I have had recruiters try to back-fill guys I have fired from my teams with new candidates because they heard about me from the guys I had fired. Worse still, I had a recruiter recently try to back-fill a senior engineer from one of my teams that she herself had head-hunted from my team, thereby trying to double her recruitment fee at my expense! Trust is everything.

Finally, bad recruiters make no effort to get to know me. If they don’t know what kind of person (and therefore manager) I am, how can they place engineers in my teams that will be a good cultural fit? Buy me a beer/coffee/dinner now and again, or just give me a call to chat. Work the relationship.

How good recruiters operate

The good recruiters I have worked with value my time, because they know my time can make them money via recruitment fees. They also understand that I have other recruitment options now, like online platforms (Indeed, LinkedIn), so they need to show real value added in comparison to those. They know they need to hustle, but not hassle.

When I speak with a good recruiter in my city, I come away from that conversation smarter. I know what is happening with company X, candidate Y, and senior manager Z. I know what companies are growing, and what are shrinking and releasing good people back onto the market. A good recruiter provides intel.

Finally, a good recruiter will not bullshit me. They will not provide me with candidates that are half-hearted about the role in my team, only for me to have to find that out the hard way. They will not try to bluff me about the candidate's commitment, enthusiasm, or technical chops for a role, again leading me and my hiring team to weed out the bad candidates before mistakenly hiring them.

A good recruiter understands that their reputation is on the line each and every time they put forward a candidate, not just with me but with those other engineering managers I dine with, because we all share notes and have long memories.

Conclusion

Good recruiters are fantastic, if you find one stick with them and send them your business, their job is more difficult than you can imagine. If you are a recruiter and reading this, try to be a great one to stand out from the crowd.

John Collins

I have been writing about web technology and software development since 2001. I am the developer of the Alpha Framework for PHP. I love open source, technology, and economics. You can follow updates from this blog on Twitter.

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